It’s pretty common for people to start driving a little bit more carefully as soon as they have to share their car with their children, but while drivers may have the best intentions when it comes to the safety of their children, the laws regarding seatbelts and car seats can be confusing. This guide takes a look at what’s legal and what’s not when it comes to transporting children and babies in cars.
Seatbelts and car seats
The laws regarding what level of restraint is required for children are dependent on their age and height. All children under the age of three must travel in a car seat appropriate for their weight. If they are in a rear-facing car seat, they may only ride in the front if there is no passenger airbag or it has been deactivated.
Children must continue to sit in a car seat appropriate for their weight and age until they are either 12 years old or 135cm – whichever comes first. Children over 135cm or over the age of 12 do not need additional restraints, but must wear an adult seatbelt at all times. The driver is responsible for making sure anyone under the age of 14 is wearing their seatbelt or sitting on an appropriate car seat.
A guide to car seats
Knowing which car seat to buy for your child or children might at first seem confusing, considering all the different models and manufacturers available on the market. However, car seats can largely be placed into several groups.
Group 0 – These are rear-facing seats designed for newborn babies.
Group 0+ – These are also rear-facing seats for children 9-12 months old or 10kg-13kg.
Group 1 – These forward-facing seats are suitable for children from 9 months to 4 years or 9kg-18kg.
Group 2 – These are booster seats rather than car seats and are for 4-6 year olds or 15kg-25kg.
Group 3 – These are booster cushions suitable for children aged 6-12 and under 135cm.
There are certain circumstances in which wearing a seatbelt or using a special car seat is not a legal requirement. It should be noted that while it is legal in these cases for children to travel without these restraints, it is not necessarily as safe.
For a start, if you are driving a car without seatbelts, children can ride without being restrained as long as they are three years of age or older. If there are already two child seats in the back and this prevents a third seat being fitted, a child over the age of three may wear a seatbelt, but children under the age of three must ride in the front seat with the proper restraint. If an unexpected short journey has to be made, a child may also be excused from riding in a car seat.
A child may be exempt from wearing a seatbelt on medical grounds, but there may be suitable seat restraints designed for their particular needs – your doctor may be able to recommend the best way to keep your child safe in your car.
Stay safe or pay the price
You shouldn’t need an incentive to want to keep your child safe, but if for any reason your child is caught not wearing a seatbelt there are penalties. While you won’t be given points on your license, you will be issued with a £60 fixed penalty notice, which can rise to as much as £500 if the case is taken to court.
Written by James Sheehan, a blogger with past legal experience.